It’s no secret that the exhilarating energy and national attention around Occupy Wall Street faded in December. What’s less widely recognized is how much hard work and community organizing persisted through the winter, with sustained anti-foreclosure actions, bank sit-ins and an array of network-building mobilizations geared toward spring.
Weekly marches have returned to Wall Street. There is an ongoing occupation at Union Square and a group of occupiers now sleeping nightly in front of the Stock Exchange. The message, at this point, should be clear: we are here, and we are not leaving.
The latest chapter in the city’s organizing efforts began last Saturday with Spring Awakening, the first New York Citywide People’s Assembly, which happened under sunny blue skies amid the grassy knolls and trees of Central Park. Hundreds of people from OWS and throughout the boroughs converged for the afternoon event, connecting new faces and reinvigorating the movement in a new, dynamic space.
Musical and theatrical performances enlivened the event, including the artful, bat-carrying Tax Dodgers team and their retinue parading the grounds singing songs about corporate loopholes. More concretely, the day was organized around discussions and teach-ins that featured a “commons board,” pointing participants to the topics circles they wanted to learn and engage with. Unlike at many Occupy actions, the police presence was sparse, enabling newcomers to relax, enjoy the day together and get work done.
That, after all, was the point; the event was dedicated to plugging new people into the movement. Parents For Occupy Wall St. (POWS) focused their efforts on reaching out to parents at the Central Park playground. They set up a banner with musical instruments, crayons, coloring books, snacks and juice boxes. They “chalkupied” the space to let other families know who they were and gave out chalk for kids to draw whatever was inspiring them (on a large boulder, scrawled in colorful letters, was the word “occupy”). They also distributed 100 bags of wildflower seeds for children to plant and handed out fliers explaining how to protest safely as a family.
As one POWS organizer, Myra Kuo Territo, explained, “We represent the non-media version of OWS and help people relate to the concept of 99%. Instead of preaching to the choir, we spent four hours letting people see that we are just like them, and how easy it is for us to work together towards our common goal. We are trying to remove the fear and obstacles in people's minds and show them what a positive impact OWS has made in our lives and those of our children.”
Kuo Territo added that “even though my children have participated in marches, rallies, meetings and other direct actions, what they did on Saturday was the hardest thing they have done in their tender activist years. Without a crowd to hide in, my 10-year-old was approaching strangers and learning to how to [talk] with clarity, a strong voice and a positive message. She showed amazing strength and we as adults have much to learn” from her and other children who are starting to engage.
Around 3 p.m., after the OWS drum circle rallied the crowd and a handful of participants spoke, groups broke out to discuss specific issues and how they fit into the broader movement. The groups covered a variety of topics including education, healthcare, gender equality and the environment. Notes, ideas, proposals and upcoming actions that emerged from the event are posted on springawake.tumblr.com.
Spring Awakening was just the latest step toward forging a greater cohesion among organizers and occupiers from communities across New York City. And it will continue, with long-term, fruitful relationship-building as the goal. Organizer Simran Sachdev said, “Spring Awakening did exactly what it was meant to do. It brought tremendous energy back into the movement, connected people working on various social issues from across New York City, and was just plain fun. It was a highly energetic way to kick off the OWS spring. Everyone seemed excited to be there, to be together and to be working. Most importantly, the work from this event will continue in monthly movement assemblies.”
The next movement building assembly is scheduled for May 13 at 5 p.m. at Judson Memorial Church.